By Paul Hanna, Epsaltos at St. Mary & St. Mina Coptic Orthodox Church, Bexley, Australia.
The Prosperity Gospel is preached by famous people like Joel Osteen. It is the idea that if you follow God you will be blessed with material wealth and that riches are a sign of God’s blessing. It has recently become popular in wider society and is something I have heard at Church. It is sometimes called turning God into a Vending Machine. Here are 5 reasons this idea is wrong:
1) God does not promise prosperity: People often share comforting verses like “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” Jeremiah 29:11. Many of these verses are taken out of context and were meant for specific people (like Jeremiah). Here, God is not saying that He has everything worked out for Jeremiah and so he can just relax. Actually, the Jews had been taken captive by the Babylonians for years and God was working to free them – but it was not at all rosy. In the same chapter, God promises that several false prophets will be put to death. It is no different in the New Testament. God promises us peace but not worldly peace (John 14:27). Rather, He promises inner peace in the face of tribulation (John 16:33).
2) The Saints were not well-off: Saint Paul was beaten, stoned, stranded at sea, imprisoned, shipwrecked, without food, water or clothing and more (2 Corinthians 11: 23-27). The first 3 centuries of the Church were filled with persecution. Most Copts know about Emperor Diocletian. In fact, if you study any Saint’s life, chances are, they suffered deeply, whether by a voluntary vow of poverty or through external forces. This is not because suffering is glorified in Christianity but because the darkness hates the light (John 1:5). The examples given to us such as Pope Tawadrous or our Bishops must take a vow of poverty.
3) Jesus never preached ‘health and wealth’: Jesus did not live the high life. He worked as a carpenter and was not wealthy. If being rich was a sign of blessedness, surely Jesus would have spent more time making money. In fact, He did not at all seem bothered about the tax system, clearly showing that God has little interest in money (Matthew 22:21). Jesus’ command to the rich young ruler was to sell all his possessions and follow Himself (Matthew 19:21). A few verses later, Jesus tells us that riches can be a hindrance to the kingdom of heaven. If a Christians’ aim is to be like Jesus, being well-off is certainly not part of that goal.
4) The world will pass away: All material gain will not amount to anything in the age to come. There is a famous tale: Alexander the Great was asked to be buried with his hands poking out of his coffin so that everyone could see that he was burried empty-handed. There is no point in searching for earthly treasures when they are impermanent (Matthew 6:19). The Jews thought the Messiah would overthrow the Romans and free them but Jesus came to establish the heavenly Kingdom in us, not establish us in an earthly kingdom.
5) What God promises is much better: Carnal things pale in comparison to God’s gifts. There is nothing wrong with achievement but health and wealth apart from God are worth nothing. God offers us eternal life without death, sorrow, or pain (Revelations 2:14). That is a promise we can believe! Eternal life is not just for when a person dies. God offers us heaven now (Mark 1:15) and tells us that heaven is within us (Luke 17:21). Our aim on earth now is to know God more deeply and fully and to see the world as He does. It has little to do with amassing wealth, getting a good position or living to a long age. These things ought not to take God’s place and ought not to be a focus point.